On September 22, more than a hundred members of the pro bono legal community gathered at the John Adams Courthouse to help Lawyers Clearinghouse kick off another year of the Access to Justice Fellows Program.
Seventy-four lawyers and retired judges have participated in the Fellows Program since its inception in 2012, volunteering an estimated 45,000 hours of pro bono legal service to nonprofit organizations, courts, and other public service entities. This year’s class of 19 Fellows will work on a diverse set of innovative projects relating to legal access through technology, veterans’ legal services, environmental policy, and educational advocacy.
Following an introduction from Program Director Mia Friedman, attendees heard remarks from Martha Koster, a member at Mintz Levin who co-founded the Fellows Program and served as one of the first Fellows during its inaugural year.
Martha spoke of the work she has done through her partner organization, the Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project (PAIR), where she continues to volunteer. Over the past four years, she has worked on numerous asylum cases for people and families fleeing violence and oppression in their home countries.
Martha noted that the Fellows Program has allowed her to step outside of her comfort zone and really make a difference.
“This has been one of the most remarkable experiences in my life, both personally and professionally,” she said. “. . . I can’t imagine retiring without this work, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to do it.”
In her introduction, Justice Hines emphasized what a privilege it is to be a member of the legal community, “where the pursuit of equal access to justice is a calling, not merely an aspiration.” She further noted that there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve equal access to justice for all.
Two out of every three people who qualify for free civil legal services in Massachusetts are turned away due to a lack of funding and resources. Justice Hines cautioned that the justice gap in Massachusetts will grow into a justice chasm without the continued dedication of those in the legal profession.
“The Access to Justice Fellows Program is part of our legal community’s effort to make good on the promise of equal access to justice,” she said. “. . . what we have here is unique, and we should all be proud of the Fellows who have served and the Fellows who are about to make this magnificent commitment.”
The Clearinghouse would like to thank the Fellows and Partner Organizations who have made this important work possible. Visit our website to learn more about each past and current Fellow and to keep up with Fellows Program news.